By Fineman, Howard; Gegax, T. Trent
Byline: Howard Fineman and T. Trent Gegax
Eight-year-old Annie Goodridge was in gym class in suburban Boston, working on floor hockey, when her mothers arrived on the scene, grinning. Hillary Goodridge (a foundation director) and Julie Goodridge (an investment adviser) were overjoyed at the news they were bringing. The lesbians were among seven same-sex couples who had sued in the Massachusetts courts, arguing that the state had no right, under its Constitution, to deny them marriage licenses and the legal powers and responsibilities those documents invoke. Now, in sweeping language, the Supreme Judicial Court had agreed. The two mothers--Julie is the biological one--told Annie what it all meant. The little girl, her parents recalled later, raced around the gym, waving her hockey stick over her head in victory. Puzzled friends asked her why she was so happy. "My mommies can marry!" she exclaimed.
It was another shot heard round the world, one that will echo loudly not only in the culture and the courts but in constitutional debates and in the presidential campaign. Gay-rights activists saw it as Lexington revisited, a watershed event in a social revolution. "A monumental decision, absolutely historic," said Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign. Conservatives saw it that way, too, but vowed to fight back with an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The ruling complicates life for the leading Democratic candidates, who have tried to finesse the issue by supporting "civil unions"--but not marriage. Republicans see political gain--if they're careful. President Bush called the ruling an attack on a "sacred institution" and vowed "to do what is legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage." But he stopped short of calling for a constitutional amendment--always a controversial idea, and especially risky if it forces him to link arms too tightly with the right wing of his party.
While several states have granted gays and lesbians many benefits and duties of marriage--Vermont's civil-union law, signed by the then Gov. Howard Dean, is the most notable--they reserve the legal institution called marriage for heterosexuals only. The Massachusetts court did away with that distinction. Despite religious and cultural tradition reaching back thousands of years, the court said, the standard definition "works a deep and scarring hardship" on same-sex families "for no rational reason." The court gave state officials 180 days to figure out how to integrate gays and lesbians into the marriage-license system. Gov. Mitt Romney, in an interview with NEWSWEEK, held out the hope that the state could provide "partnership benefits to nontraditional couples" without calling it marriage. But most legal experts think that's a nonstarter, and Romney--a Republican and social conservative--is also pursuing another response with Democratic allies on Beacon Hill: an amendment to the state Constitution to limit marriage to the traditional kind. …